Thursday, May 20, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Batman vs. Aliens, Las Calles De Arena & The Surrogates

I'm constantly reading collections that I borrow from the library. Sometimes I do full reviews of them, but there have been a couple of them that I just did not have enough to say about to justify a full article, so I have collected them all into a "What I've Been Reading" column for your entertainment. They are a pretty mixed bunch, the unlikely crossover of Batman Vs. Aliens, the indie sci-fi book The Surrogates, and the European critical darling Las Calles de Arena. Hit the jump to see what I thought about them.

Written by Ron Marz & Ian Edginton
Art by Bernie Wrightson, Staz Johnson & James Hodgkins

This international paperback was a joint production from Dark Horse and DC, that collected two different mini series from somewhere within the 90's. The fact that this collects two different mini series is incredibly important, as one falls under the "unremarkable but passable" category and the other under the "incredibly awful" one. After some research, it seems that over in the States, these were collected separately, but this poor reviewer had to sit through both of them. Allow me to elaborate.

The first mini series involves Batman traveling to somewhere in Central America, to investigate a spaceship crash in the middle of the jungle. Taking Batman out of Gotham is a risky move, but the creative team of Marz and Wrightson play it for all it's worth. There he finds a group of mercenaries that are also investigating the crash, which leads to a tense alliance between the two parties to cooperate and survive as they explore the giant spaceship. As you probably already guessed, the spaceship carried a couple of Alien creatures and the usual violence ensues. It's not entirely exciting work, but like I said, the creative team plays the setting and characters and there are some genuinely creepy and interesting moments. In the end, Batman is the only one to survive the experience. I was left wondering why he didn't call the JLA in the first place, but I am willing to ignore that for the sake of the story. The artwork has a very classic 70's Batman look that I am sure many fans will appreciate.

The second mini series starts off competently enough too: back during the 1920's a scientist had excavated some Alien eggs during a trip to the Arctic, and brought them back to Gotham to study them. The eggs remained frozen until something fails and they hatch during modern day Gotham, escape the facility and cut a bloody swath through the Gotham subway lines. Batman obviously jumps on the case, but at some point the same mercenary group from the first story makes a comeback, and they use some Alien DNA to mix it with DNA from Arkham Asylum inmates and create Alien clones with their attributes. Sounds crazy? You bet and it leads to one of the most ridiculous scenes in the whole collection: we get a splash page of a Joker Alien, a Two-Face Alien, a Poison Ivy Alien, a Scarecrow Alien and I think there might have also been a Mr. Freeze Alien but I'm not sure. Because that was not ridiculous enough, for some reason they are all wearing camo pants with giant pouches and military gear like M-16s and grenades. The aliens don't look scary, just downright puzzling. At this point there is nothing that could redeem the book, and what happens afterward is of no consequence. Big fight, explosions, Batman wins, and no one mentions or refers this story ever again.

Verdict - Avoid It. If it was just the first story, it would probably earn a "Check It", but the second mini series collected within this trade is so absolutely laughable that it poisons everything around it through osmosis. Unless you are an absolute die hard fan of either one of these franchises, there is nothing here worth hunting down.

Written by Paco Roca
Art by Paco Roca

I initially was not going to review this book, as it is only available in Spain (that I know of), but it has been getting some critical acclaim on this side of the ocean (it was nominated for a few prizes for the Barcelona Convention, although I don't know if it won or not). The name translates to "The Streets of Sand" and it is about a young man who gets lost in the old section of the city, only to eventually find something far more stranger.

The protagonist is actually never named, but he is a late-20's, early-30's man, who seems to be pushed around by everyone; his girlfriend, his friends, etc. One day he is supposed to meet his girlfriend so they can take out a lease for a new house, and because he is running late, he decides to take a shortcut through the old section of the city, only to get incredibly lost. I found this setup pretty funny, because if you have ever been to any old European city, you probably have gotten lost at some point or the other. Anyway, our protagonist cannot find his way out, eventually spending the night there in a hotel he found. The building is huge, but not one he recognizes, and despite being supposedly full, and in the middle of the city, he hardly ever sees people. Because he lost his wallet while he was walking around the old part of the city, he doesn't have any money to pay for the hotel, and must work there to pay off his debt. Despite his many attempts to leave the hotel, he finds out that he can't for one reason or the other.

Once he enters the hotel, the whole book takes on a dreamy quality both in the plot and in the logic that the characters use. Mild spoilers, I guess, but once you finish the book you realize that what Roca was doing is using the hotel and it's inhabitants as a metaphor for people stuck in a joyless life. Some of the most notable guests include the receptionist who is always busy with work and never has time for her personal feelings, the father of a family who practices every day for his death (by spending time inside a casket), an obsessive compulsive old man who always gets lost in his preparations never taking on a journey, and a vampire who hangs on to every memento in his life, never actually enjoying them. It's very smart social commentary, cleverly disguised until it starts all falling together in the reader's mind. Roca's artwork is very reminiscent of the classic European style, but with more modern sensibilities, kind of like a cross of Herge and Chris Samnee.

Verdict - Buy It. I enjoyed the book for what it was, although the ending was a bit abrupt and I would have enjoyed it if had gone on for a bit longer. It's a smart book, beautifully illustrated and adventurous in its concept if not in its execution. Not for everyone, but still recommended.

Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Brett Weldele

The Surrogates was a five issue limited series released by Top Shelf in 2005. It is a sci-fi story sent in the future, and the main concept is that humanity has developed robotic counterparts that are in widespread use, allowing people to remotely control them. This means that basically no one goes out of the house, since they send their advanced surrogates to experience life, work, and generally do everything for them.

That's a pretty clever set-up, but to the extent that the creative team takes the concept and investigates the world around it is astonishing. For example, at the end of every issue, there's a text piece (a la Watchmen) that furthers explores how the use of "Surries" has changed the life of people. There's fake advertisements for surrogate units, medical journals talking about the decrease of on-the-job accidents and crime, and the history of the use of surrogates among others. It's smart, it's clever, and I absolutely loved it, because it tells me that the creators thought about this beyond the simple concept.

As for the plot of the comic, it centers around Lt. Harvey Greer, who is investigating the destruction of two surrogate units. Eventually, he finds that the case is not as simple as it might have initially seemed, and uncovers a conspiracy that involves a cult of anti-surrogate citizens, industrial espionage, and more. It's a true-and-tried set-up, but the vibrancy of the world around it, added with the personal drama of Greer as a protagonist makes the book work extremely well. Greer is growing increasingly weary of using his surrogate, while at the same time his wife becomes more addicted to hers. It's an interesting subplot that leads to an incredibly emotional payoff. Venditti keeps the plot moving at a nice and steady face, delivering action intrigue and humor, while still delivering nice cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. Weldele's art is incredibly reminiscent of Ben Templesmith, to the point that I had to double check it wasn't him on the art chores. It took a while to get used to it, but in the end I found it enjoyable and fitting to the metallic world that is presented within the pages.

Verdict - Must Read. The Surrogates features an interesting concept that is complemented by the talent and dedication of the creative team. Like all good science-fiction, it also works as sharp social commentary, and this one also has a story that most readers will appreciate.

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Anonymous said...


Hey MAtt, I am a completist freak for crossovers I accept it and even when I agree with you that the batman-aliens crossover was a mess I enjoyed it a little : )

Do you know where can I get the TPB that you talk about? (I mean the one containing both miniseries in one tpb).

Great reviews!

gil said...

An Alien Batman Rogue's Gallery? I'm definitely picking up that book! And I'm not being facetious at all.

Kirk Warren said...

The Batman/Predator crossover is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I havent had the opportunity to read the Aliens version.

Ivan said...

Batman/Predator is a pretty ok action comic. I forgot who wrote it, but I remember the pencils are by one of the Kubert bros. Don't remember which one, though.

Anonymous said...


@ KIRK hey that predator/batman is one of my pleasures too!

You know guys, it could be great if you could do a voting for the favorite intercompany crossovers of all times... I do not know if you have done this before but it would rock! Or review the crossovers you think are the best for you aliens/superman, batman/spiderman, predator/tarzan, spiderman/gen 13, etc

Have a great weekend!

Matt Ampersand said...

@The Great Anonymous: The copy I read was in Spanish, so I am not sure if there is such a version in English where they are both in the same TPB. I checked Amazon and I didn't see anything like that.

@Gil: No, no, no! This is a bad comic, do not buy it! I know it sounds like one of those goofy awesome ideas, but it's played completely straight (this is a Batman book after all), and it sucks. Throughout the whole book, Batman struggles to fight with the Aliens, and people are constantly saying how the Aliens are the perfect killing machines, yet for some reason they NEED to mix them with the Batman rogues to make them deadlier? And on top of that, Batman takes them all out in the span of a couple of pages. This is without the stupidity of having the Alien clones wearing camo pants (I really need to find a scan of that), but for example the Two Face Alien somehow has the half of his body burned like two face, except that is not genetic information that they could have duplicated, same thing with the Alien Joker, who somehow has the white face and red lips, etc. That is not how cloning works!

Seriously. This is bad comics. Not even Chris Sims would like it. (well, he probably would, because it has Batman in it, but normal people should stay away from this story)

Daryll B. said...

It is interesting though that in the second, people would sign off of the alteration of the Aliens. I half expected Paul Reiser to make a cameo...

On the whole the Bats/Predator tops Bats/Aliens. However the 1st Bats/Aliens was awesome...

How did Surrogates the movie fall so off the rails compared to the comic??? I was scratching my head in the theater thinking that as I watched the last half of the movie. I mean the first half was pretty on point in my opinion once the conspiracy was revealed, the movie just unraveled.

Zdenko said...

You can't just mention that splash-page and not post a scan of it. You piqued our curiosity and now we need to buy/reed it ourselves and see the page... ;) :P

gil said...

After looking at the prices the Batman vs. Aliens book is going for I think I'll skip it...for now. But if I find it cheap I'll have to get it. It sounds so bad that it has to be good. I guess I could check the New York Public Library to see if it's available.

Matt Duarte said...

@Daryll: I didn't even know there was a movie until I researched this book after I was done reading it. It seems no one liked it.

As for the Batman/Aliens thing, I've been hunting down that particular image, and I finally found it. Prepare to bask in the horror and hilarity of this. I had forgotten, but the Poison Ivy Alien for some reason looks pretty much human (except for the tail and double mouth).

And I just want to say that I hate you all for making me revisit this piece of crap.

Daryll B. said...

Gil, it is definitely at several NY Libraries...twas the first place I discovered it 5 years ago...

Matt, it is a prime example of giving people what they ask for...then cruelly pulling the rug out from under them....

Zdenko said...

Matt, thanks for the pic. It looks really bad. :)

Ivan said...

It does look terrible. Who is the big one supposed to be? Clayface?

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